Three little words that sum up the moment when you think about booking your holiday. And for most of us it really is that simple – put together a wish list of perfect destinations and hit that internet search. But for those who families who have additional needs, the three little words take on a more significant meaning.
Rather than ranking holidays based on temperature, closeness to the beach, quality of nightlife, restaurants, local sites of interest, what if you had to rank your holiday on whether the accommodation has doorways wide enough for a wheelchair, is there a ramp, lift, stairs, does it have a banister or a wet room? What is the access from the drive to the property like? Can I get to the bottom of the garden without having to redevelop it first? Suddenly ‘dream, search, escape’ takes on a deeper, more profound meaning.
The majority of us are fortunate and never have to give a second thought to how difficult simple, everyday things can be for those who have some form of impairment – physical or mental; our day to day life is simple in comparison and for those with a disability almost everything requires so much more planning.
If you want something doing…
Based in Flintshire, Wales, Becky Hamilton and her husband, Phil have two children, the younger of which has a disability and it was their repeated negative experience of trying to find suitable accommodation that resulted in her lightbulb moment.
“After beginning to write a review-style blog of our accessible adventures in 2018 and becoming part of a large disability community, we slowly began to realise that it wasn’t just us who struggled to find somewhere that was right for the whole family but also met specific accessibility needs.
We feel that the only people who can make judgements on whether somewhere is accessible for them is the traveller themselves! We have put our trust in website content only to arrive and discover internal steps, stairs too wide for stair gates or external steps with no handrails…Accessibility means different things to different people.
If Becky and her family were having such trouble finding somewhere that catered for all their different holiday needs, others were probably having the same issues and she decided that they should think about creating their own website. And so, in September 2018 Accessible Holiday Escapes was born.
Gap in the Market
Working with her Business Wales advisor, Becky did her homework and through research and networking, was surprised to discover that with a value of £15.3billion in the UK, accessible tourism did indeed represent a viable opportunity. Her aim was to establish a site which didn’t charge fees or commission to users, and enabled contact to easily be made with an owner or manager, so that travellers could ensure properties met their individual needs.
The result is that Accessible Holiday Escapes website features over 100 accessible options including cottages, barns, safari tents, glamping barns, and a railway carriage; with the majority of the accessible escapes based in rural locations. With the motto ‘Dream. Search. Escape’, Accessible Holiday Escapes aim to showcase a wide range of accommodation choices meaning that people living with disability in the UK can find their dream holiday escape with ease and don’t have to settle for a less amazing break than everyone else.
The wonderful thing about their website is that users are able to set their own individual and very specific filters – there are over 50 to choose from – and, ease of contact with property owners is vital when you are looking to book a holiday for people with differing needs. All of the properties MUST cater for those with a disability – not necessarily physical; sensory-friendly, autistic and dementia friendly properties are also included. It is also important to ensure that as well as catering for anyone with a disability, that the solution doesn’t ‘dis the abled’ in the family at the same time.
Launched in June 2019 with just 25 properties, the company has experienced rapid growth despite the site being live for only 8 months before the Covid pandemic hit. The total shutdown for the tourism industry was a real blow but Becky used the time wisely to work on the content and structure of the website with her developers Daydream Designs and was encouraged by the increased interest when there was the brief window last year when restrictions were eased temporarily. As the planned restriction removal starts in the UK for hopefully what will be a permanent basis, Becky is hoping to see further increased traffic to the website and more booking enquiries.
Reward & Recognition
No small business operates without the love and support from family members behind the scenes. Although not involved in the day-to-day running of the website, Becky’s husband, Phil, offers that much needed support as a sounding board for development and strategy whilst their son Sam, 13, has been known to offer advice on social media. Emily has arguably the best role as chief property tester!
Everyone was rightly thrilled with the reaction that her business has had to date. Sam thinks his mum is pretty cool and is very proud that Becky has won not only one but three awards, despite the pandemic, a testament to the very real need that they are servicing.
Recipients of the Theo Paphitis Small Business Sunday award, they have been named a #SmartSocial winner by MarketMe consultancy for our use of social media. In February, they won the National UK Winner of the Best Rural Start-Up Business by the Rural Business Awards 2020/21.
Founded by rural-based business women, Jemma Clifford and Anna Price, the Rural Business Awards are backed by Amazon and judged by an independent panel, drawn from the rural business sector, rural public sector agencies, and rural charitable organisations.
Jemma Clifford, Director and Co-Founder of The Rural Business Awards, said: “The last year has been tough for all rural businesses, but we remain amazed at the high calibre of entries to the RBAs and this has certainly continued in the 2020/21 year. The judges had a real challenge on their hands when picking the winners and every business shortlisted should be very proud of their achievement of reaching the National Final. Our winners have all shown great determination and have bright futures ahead – on behalf of everyone at the Rural Business Awards we congratulate them all.”
Still Dreaming Big
What does the future hold for Accessible Holiday Escapes? Becky is determined to continue to offer a chance for those with disabilities of any kind to find their dream escape and with properties not only in the UK but also Spain, Menorca, South Africa, France, Florida and Portugal, she wants to continue to expand the number of properties listed on the site to give users as much choice as possible. The only regret Becky has is that, despite the pandemic, she wishes that she had done it sooner – no doubt a sentiment shared by the many users who have found they can ‘dream, search and escape’ somewhere special themselves.